Value and Conclusion
|9.3||ASUS has engineered the most powerful single-GPU AMD graphics card money can buy right now. The HD 7970 Matrix runs at 1100 MHz GPU clock, which is higher than any other HD 7970 available today. Only the PowerColor PCS+ matches it, but runs a much lower memory clock. Memory clock on the Matrix is also very high, and is, with 1650 MHz, finally a card that goes beyond the 1500 MHz barrier out of the box - good job ASUS. Based on the Tahiti XT2 GHz ASIC, the Matrix also uses AMD's Boost clock feature that runs the card at 1100 MHz during normal gaming and down to 1050 MHz during Furmark or similar testing. Overall, these enhancements result in an 11% performance improvement over the regular HD 7970 and a 3% boost over the HD 7970 GHz and MSI HD 7970 Lightning.|
ASUS has put an extra-powerful, big, triple-slot cooler on the card that uses two 10 cm fans to keep the card cool. In our testing, we see super-low temperatures of around 70°C under load. While that is certainly nice, it is missing potential to quieten down the fan, which is not as quiet as I had expected from such a cooler. Compared to other HD 7970 cards, the HD 7970 Matrix is actually the quietest under load, but some custom design NVIDIA cards do much better here and provide that silent, high-end gaming experience everybody is looking for. ASUS tells me that their engineers deliberately included an extra-large temperature-safety margin for overclocking and overvolting, but the card only reaches 75°C at maximum voltage, which leaves plenty of headroom for cooling.
I have to commend ASUS on enabling a default dual-link DVI output with their card. Other cards, like the MSI Lightning, did away with that option, which left many 30" monitor users standing in the rain. You can, if you don't want the dual-link DVI port, but prefer a single-link port and more DisplayPort outputs, switch to the second BIOS to enable this configuration - smart thinking by ASUS.
The HD 7970 Matrix is loaded with "usual" enthusiast features like software voltage control and measuring points. But ASUS went the extra mile and added some new goodies. Using the VGA Hotwire cables, you can connect the graphics card to your ASUS ROG motherboard, which lets you control the card's voltages from within the motherboard BIOS. Another OC feature are its on-board buttons to adjust GPU voltage without any software. Unfortunately, the range is quite limited and doesn't support undervolting. It also doesn't remember the setting, so you have to set the voltage every time you reboot or turn off your PC. A third button is supposed to enable some kind of safe mode, but didn't do anything at all during my testing. Last but not least, ASUS has added a fourth button that switches fan speed to 100%, which might come in handy if you need to get the card to cool down quickly.
Overclocking worked fine on our card, reaching good GPU and memory clocks that I would describe as "good" for an enthusiast card since other cards in our test group reached higher levels. Manual voltage tweaking did not yield a higher clock frequency, which is quite surprising. Changing voltages actually worked, so the underlying reason is unknown. We have seen this card reach over 1700 MHz In the hands of hardcore overclockers with plenty of liquid nitrogen.
ASUS tells us their HD 7970 Matrix will retail for $480, which is roughly the same as MSI's HD 7970 Lightning, but much more expensive than normal HD 7970 cards. AMD recently conducted several rounds of price drops for the HD 7970 and GHz Edition. The cheapest HD 7970 is available for $390, and the cheapest GHz Edition goes for $400. ASUS tells me their price target is the AMD HD 7970 GHz SEP, which is $449, plus a 30 dollar price premium. However, some board partners have recently started selling the HD 7970 GHz below that price point, which ASUS does not account for. An $80 price increase for a few percent of extra performance is a lot to ask from a typical user who mostly plays games. In the hands of a powerclocker, this card certainly provides a good base design for record breaking results. I like that ASUS included a second VRM heatsink optimized for LN2, and the GPUs also seem to be sorted. Our GPU had an ASIC quality of 62.4% (hardcore overclockers look for lower percentages).